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Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Make You Into a Horrible Person

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the or-is-it-the-reverse dept.

Education 489

An anonymous reader writes "An assistant professor at Ohio State University who recently earned her Ph.D. in literature writes a warning in Slate for others following the same path. She says, 'I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct. After four years of trying, I've finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you. ... Don't misunderstand me. There is unquantifiable intellectual reward from the exploration of scholarly problems and the expansion of every discipline—yes, even the literary ones, and even if that means doing bat-s**t analysis like using the rule of "false elimination" to determine that Josef K. is simultaneously guilty and not guilty in The Trial. But there is one sort of reward you will never get: monetary compensation from a stable, non-penurious position at a decent university. ... By the time you finish—if you even do— your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why. (Bright side: You will no longer have any friends outside academia.) ... In the place of actual jobs are adjunct positions: benefit-free, office-free academic servitude in which you will earn $18,000 a year for the rest of your life."

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"you academic self" (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369263)

That's a typo, professor.

Re:"you academic self" (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369317)

No, that's a sad and desperate piece of clickbait FUD posted on a fading tech site that's been losing relevance for years.

Not surprised (5, Insightful)

danbuter (2019760) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369267)

All the baby boomer professors will keep working for another 10 to 20 years. Until they retire, they are taking up a huge percentage of the available academic jobs. With regards to literature majors, the death of the publishing industry has killed any non-academic work. While there is still some work available, compared to even 10 years ago, it's peanuts.

No, it's not the Boomers failing to retire. (5, Informative)

DoctorNathaniel (459436) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369329)

No. This is what we as young academics have been told for twenty years: the Boomers and pre-Boomers are about to retire, and there will be a lot of jobs soon.

The reality is that no, there is no large spike of retirements coming down the pipe, and even if there were, it does not imply there are job openings. Universities rely on large classes, heavy teaching loads, and especially adjuncts / sessionals.

Moreover, it is well-known that in the next decade or so, there will be a slump in the number of students, due to simple demographics. So, fewer, weaker students, and fewer jobs per student.

The OP is not just bitter: this is the honest truth about academia right now. And it includes the sciences and professional studies, too.

Re:No, it's not the Boomers failing to retire. (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369561)

Yup. It's true in the sciences too. I have first-hand experience of it. A big part of the problem is tenure; get rid of it.

Re:No, it's not the Boomers failing to retire. (5, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369727)

They are getting rid of tenure, just by replacing tenured faculty positions with non-tenure-track adjunct positions. Adjuncts are of course a fraction of the cost of a full tenured professor, which is part of the motivation, and the other part seems to be the business types who make up administrations sticking it to the academics because they can.

Of course, how they expect to have any university-affiliated distinguished scientists is a different question.

Re:No, it's not the Boomers failing to retire. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369593)

No! Stay out! There is no room for anyone else in this field, it's full!

My cynical self sees this as both honest and self-serving. (And I'm not opposed to either.)

Re:No, it's not the Boomers failing to retire. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369651)

You got it. And yes, those jobs won't ever open up: they'll simply melt into air, into thin air. As it is, outside of Big Name Universities, humanities departments everywhere are going down to die in the unsympathetic collegiate pyre of re-purposed meeting rooms and single-digit enrollments.

Don't get your hopes up, grad students.

Re:No, it's not the Boomers failing to retire. (5, Interesting)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369735)

As someone who was told this 20 years ago but saw through it, let me say that there is plenty of room for literature majors in private industry -- the trick is to not believe everything you're told by the university literature culture, and keep those social connections outside of the field. There are also a significant number of positions available for decent pay within academia, as long as you don't mind not working in the field that stems directly out of your thesis.

Part of the problem is that many literature majors get their PhD and feel like they have arrived and deserve the tenure track positions -- when there's really only a limited market compared to the number of people seeking those positions. BUT, with a bit more education in linguistics, design, computing science, or a number of other areas, suddenly you're someone who can land anything from an administrative job designing courses for ESL schools, to a community college languages head (they love to get people with a PhD and diverse training) to work at a marketing or communications firm, to a research job at a tech firm.

These positions will make anywhere from $48-120K as a starting salary. The trick is to remember to balance literature research with real life. It can be done. I know a number of people from the field who have done it, and thrived.

Re:Not surprised (4, Informative)

Rakishi (759894) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369499)

Universities are not replacing retiring professors, they are removing the positions and instead using cheap labor (postdocs, adjuncts, etc, etc.) instead.

That is the real issue.

also (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369275)

see also:
Law school

Re:also (1)

tgeller (10260) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369457)

Wait... you're suggesting that there are no well-paying jobs in the legal profession for people with doctorates?

Re:also (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369507)

Perhaps he's just suggesting that lawyers are horrible persons. I could get on board with that, as I've never met one that wasn't.

Re:also (1)

buddhaunderthetree (318870) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369531)

No there simply aren't enough. The Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates a demand for 7,000 new lawyers a year for the next ten years. Every year about 40,000 people graduate from law school.

Re:also (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369713)

Well if they would just issue hunting licenses for them we could cull the herd.

This is a warning many need to hear (4, Insightful)

sandytaru (1158959) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369281)

The value of a PhD in the wrong area is nowhere near the value of a master's degree in the right area. Businesses don't give a second glance to PhDs in literature, or sociology, or plant physiology, and the university positions for those are few and far between due to budget cuts. A master's degree in any STEM area will have two or three times the earning potential for a fraction of the cost. That isn't to say that you shouldn't pursue a PhD if you love your subject and love doing research on it. But banking on getting a position within a research university as a result of that degree is dead. (My husband managed to do it, but only by adjuncting at the school for years before he finished his PhD, so that when a full time spot opened up he was the first choice.)

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369421)

I would even go so far as to say in some areas a master's or PhD has little value above that of a bachelor's degree. Take into account the time and money spent getting the extra degrees, people going straight from a bachelors degree into industry might end up ahead.

Value of a degree to the employer (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369637)

As an employer, I try to set aside the fact that college graduates have wasted years being spoon-fed when they could have been out in the real world inventing things, learning from experience, etc. That's more difficult for someone with a masters, and almost impossible for someone with a PhD. The number of high end degrees that walk in and end up walking right back out again because they have no real world programming skills is very high. There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare. When it comes to collections of practical skills, college grads tend to be on the very short side. Nor does having bulled their way through various useless, unrelated classes help them in any way.

The good news for those people is that there are a lot of other places where hiring is done by HR instead of people who do real work; since HR has no idea how to measure competence, they shoot their own company in the foot by substituting paperhanging. It works for me; it'll be years before those people can do real work at any reasonable rate; in the interval, we always outperform them.

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (3, Interesting)

blue trane (110704) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369425)

People should study what they want. Productivity increases mean we can provide for everyone with fewer people needed. That means we can easily afford a basic income, and challenges to stimulate individuals to unleash the native curiosity and creativity most of us are born with. We need to rethink pre-industrial age, feudal economics and understand that money is a tool that should benefit us, instead of a God demanding human sacrifice.

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369517)

People should study what they want. Productivity increases mean we can provide for everyone with fewer people needed. That means we can easily afford a basic income, and challenges to stimulate individuals to unleash the native curiosity and creativity most of us are born with.

What have you seen that suggest that is true?

That was the kind of thing which happened while people's parents could still afford to send them to school to "find themselves", but over the last few years has mostly gone away.

We don't live in the Star Trek universe where we have unlimited resources, and you can pursue whatever interests you. And it was only ever a small percentage of all of the people in the world that had this illusion that we can provide for everyone -- the rest of the world has been struggling just as much as ever.

We need to rethink pre-industrial age, feudal economics and understand that money is a tool that should benefit us

No, we need to look at it in the context of our current industrial age of feudal corporate economics which is the new god demanding a sacrifice. Everything now is measured by "shareholder value", and an expected year-over-year gain to keep the stock markets going up. A world where corporations want to tell universities what they should be doing.

Pretty much the entire economy since about 2008 has been moving away from this enlightened society you seem to think is still around.

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369673)

I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.

- John Adams

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (1, Flamebait)

moeinvt (851793) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369643)

" we can easily afford a basic income, and challenges to stimulate individuals"

Who the hell is "we"? Society? The productive people IN society who do the innovation and perform the real work of providing valuable goods and services? These people should sacrifice the fruits of their labor so that others can "study what they want", regardless of how useful/useless the results of their studies might be?

People who want to study useless $H!T like art and literature should do so on their own dime and make sure they have a plan to earn a basic income of their own.

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (1)

tkrotchko (124118) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369785)

"People should study what they want."

Sure. Just don't expect to earn a living at it when you're done.

Still, I question the advice. If you really love "literature", there's no one stopping you from studying down at the local library and the internet.

Seems to me if you know you can't get a job at it, its a Hobby, not a Profession. Plan your investment accordingly.

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (3, Informative)

jedidiah (1196) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369435)

Actually, some Masters degrees in STEM disciplines aren't much better than this PhD in literature. In a lot of fields you will be doing grunt work for the PhD's and everyone will be asking you why you stopped at your Masters.

You can't take the "any STEM" thing on faith.

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369447)

That's what you think, my PhD in "History of Southwest Scandinavian Sculptures" has doubled my earning potential!

Hang on, there's someone at the drive-through.

Re:This is a warning many need to hear (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369601)

The value of a PhD in the wrong area is nowhere near the value of a master's degree in the right area. Businesses don't give a second glance to PhDs in literature, or sociology, or plant physiology)

That bit is actually not entirely true. We hire PhDs whenever we can and we are not the only ones. The subject matter of the PhD is not where the majority of the value lies. The value of the PhD is smarts, a demonstrated strong work ethic, a demonstrated ability to persevere through rough obstacles, attention to detail, etc.

Auto Tech (0)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369283)

Huh, and here I thought my Associate's of Applied Science in Automotive Technology was a wasted effort...

The difference being, I realized my degree was worth approximately shit after 2 years.

Pardon me for not feeling sorry for you.

Re:Auto Tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369343)

Is that because employers prefer real-world experience over a degree? And what were you expecting to get out of that degree? Genuinely curious, always wondered if UTI and those were worth anything.

Re:Auto Tech (0)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369611)

Is that because employers prefer real-world experience over a degree?

ASE certifications. They could give a fuck less about actual know-how, experience, or education. They just want to see that patch on your shoulder.

And what were you expecting to get out of that degree?

Satisfaction of stubbornness, I suppose. Gotta keep in mind, I was both young and a gearhead at the time.

Genuinely curious, always wondered if UTI and those were worth anything.

I looked at UTI, but declined to enroll because A) they refused to recognize my existing credits, meaning I would have to take the same 2 years of classes I had just finished before I could even begin one of the specialty tracks, and B) it would have cost me almost $15,000/semester to attend.

Re:Auto Tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369757)

Gotcha -- thanks for that. The ASE cert bit I know, I clearly haven't had enough coffee yet this morning ;) I did not know that UTI was so expensive. That's certainly not chump change.

Re:Auto Tech (-1, Troll)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369347)

Pardon me for not feeling sorry for you.

She isn't asking you to "feel sorry" for her. Perhaps if you had paid more attention in your Literature classes while turning nuts under the hood in Auto Class, you would have a higher level of reading comprehension.

Re:Auto Tech (-1, Flamebait)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369697)

Pardon me for not feeling sorry for you.

She isn't asking you to "feel sorry" for her.

ProTip - anytime someone writes a multi-paragraph, 'woe is me' whinefest... they want you to feel sorry for them.

Perhaps if you had paid more attention in your Literature classes while turning nuts under the hood in Auto Class

Yea, that's not a fight that an unthinking, mouth-breathing Philistine such as yourself should be starting. FYI, "I know how to work on cars" does not give any indication of my other intellectual skills and abilities, but your assumption that it does is a fairly powerful indicator of your own inability to posit cogent thoughts.

Served.

Re:Auto Tech (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369541)

Could you elaborate on why it's worthlesss? It's a STEM field that's supposed to pay well.

Re:Auto Tech (3, Interesting)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369631)

Could you elaborate on why it's worthlesss? It's a STEM field that's supposed to pay well.

Auto shops don't give two shits about education or experience - basically, if you don't have that patch on your shirtsleeve that says "ASE" on it, you're worthless in their eyes.

Still, it was good experience: I know which shops are honest and which are crooks, and I can make/fix damn near anything electro-mechanical.

In other news (-1, Flamebait)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369285)

Getting a PH.D. in any science related field will most likely guarantee you a job.

Re:In other news (4, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369321)

Nope.

I know 2 people with doctorates in science-related disciplines (one in physics, the other mathematics) who've both had very serious battles with long periods of unemployment (in excess of 3 years).

It's not how much you know... it's who you know. And if you don't happen to be connected to the right people at the right time, well then, it's mostly a matter of luck.

But then, so is being connected to the right people at the right time.

Re:In other news (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369423)

People with doctorates in mathematics should not be unemployable given the rise of data analysis. If they can't find a job, then there is likely something else going on. Either they are making bad choices as to where to interview, are just a shitty interview, aren't as smart as they think they are, or they come across as toxic. As someone who has been a hiring manager in tech fields for a while, I see a lot of this. People who on paper look good but clearly can't communicate with another human being or demonstrate any of their supposed knowledge.

Re:In other news (-1, Flamebait)

gbkersey (649921) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369449)

The harder I work, the luckier I get.... HTFU, make your own luck and stop whining.

Re:In other news (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369627)

Who said I was whining? I'm not suggesting anybody owes a job to people just because they have a particular education, I'm saying that sometimes shit just happens, and getting work is difficult regardless of one's qualifications.

Re:In other news (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369739)

Those who succeed will naturally attribute their success to their actions, and mentally filter out just how much luck was really involved.

Yes, working hard gives you an advantage over not working hard. Yes, failing to work hard guarantees failure whereas working hard empowers success.

But it is also true that many, many people who work their asses off never amount to anything because they simply don't have the opportunities that you have had through pure luck.

You don't deserve your success as much as you think you do.

Mod up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369609)

It's not how much you know... it's who you know

This just cannot be emphasized enough. Knowledge, skills, and experience are only 50% of success at best. The other 50% (or more) is social skills. Take it from a 38-year-old in a dead-end job who used to be very enthusiastic about his work (database programming and system adminstration). After 15 solid years in the real world, this social outcast makes $20/hour.

Re:In other news (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369621)

Nope.

I know 2 people with doctorates in science-related disciplines (one in physics, the other mathematics) who've both had very serious battles with long periods of unemployment (in excess of 3 years).

It's not how much you know... it's who you know. And if you don't happen to be connected to the right people at the right time, well then, it's mostly a matter of luck.

But then, so is being connected to the right people at the right time.

If you manage to get through a doctored program without making a single professional connection of any merit, then yes you will be jobless. But then again, if you are that inept at managing social resources, no presence (or lack) of ANY accreditation can save you. Come on, for fucks sake, reach out to people and TALK to them!

Re:In other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369805)

If you manage to get through a doctored program

Indeed, they're difficult enough as it is -- without being "doctored".

Re:In other news (0)

loufoque (1400831) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369665)

That's only true if by "unemployment" you mean a post-doctorate position, which actually is a job.

Re:In other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369675)

Who you know always is important, but if you get a PhD in some really exotic area of physics, there may not be someone in industry looking for your particular speciality. What you know always counts.

Of course, learning to *sell* yourself correctly counts too. Physics isn't exactly full of people with people skills though.

There are no certainties (4, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369445)

Getting a PH.D. in any science related field will most likely guarantee you a job.

No degree in any field will "guarantee you a job". Science is no exception. Conversely no degree in any field will make you unemployable nor will the lack of a degree. Some degrees make the odds of landing a job in your field better than others is the most you can say. Lacking a degree or having the "wrong" degree makes certain jobs unobtainable (you won't be a physician without a degree) but that doesn't mean you can't find some sort of employment.

Re:In other news (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369485)

Getting a PH.D. in any science related field will most likely guarantee you a job.

This is totally false. Getting a Ph.D., having a superstar graduate mentor, a stellar publication record, and demonstrating an ability to obtain external funding *might* mean you're more likely to get a job, but it still doesn't guarantee it.

Re:In other news (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369515)

But it might not guarantee you a job doing what you actually love doing. Yes, you can enter the Dilbertian world of private industry, and make a nice six figure salary by wearing a suit and spending most of your time shuffling paperwork for scientifically illiterate management. There are a few industry positions that actually focus on exciting, rewarding research --- but they're as rare as tenured professor spots. If you actually love doing academic research (instead of inane corporate ladder climbing), then you're in the same boat as the Literature PhD: likely to spend decades in postdoc and associate professor positions, earning less than the median national wage, with no long-term job stability or prospects.

funny... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369297)

You did a thesis on Kafka. You should have known that the world was a harsh, uncaring place...

Re:funny... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369629)

Literature is not a field that will help you absorb the meaning of literary works and apply their lessons to your life through an understanding of human experience.

Literature is a field that enables you to condescend to those unwashed masses who are unqualified to put literary works on an abstract pedestal as you are now able to do.

(Side note to R. Schuman: thanks for the warning. I was reeeeaaaaallly tempted to pursue a career as a literature professor. My dad is a retired English professor with a specialization in Old English lit. He held a single job as a tenured professor for 30 years.)

Some Rambling Commentary (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369299)

Well before all the Starbucks barrista jokes and RTFM on life comments, I figured I'd kick in some thoughts.

After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you.

I got my masters between 2005-2007. Before that I had done two internships (while getting my undergrad) and then worked a year without school. When I went back to school my employer completely paid for my masters of science in computer science and, actually, I worked forty hours a week the whole time I was going to school full time. Doctorates are a completely different animal. I wanted to do one and yet the two professors who were interested in me said I would have to quit working my job. No deal, I've been working at least a 20 hour a week job since I was 13 and I think I would go insane now if I didn't have a full time job. And before you ask, academia is a lot of work but it is not a job.

A lot of these complaints in this article (though well written and entertaining surprise surprise) are indicative of anyone who takes a career in an entertainment world to the final resting place. What? You think the second trombonist for the Milwaukee Symphony is a bad trombone player? And when he travels to Kansas for an audition and is rejected because some insider got the lead, he's not upset that he's structured his whole life around trombone playing? No, he just picked an entertainment profession which means Pareto Law would be the best possible outcome and you're likely going to be a starving artist. There's just not enough revenue to spread around and when there is it is highly concentrated to a few individuals.

This is why STEM is pressed so hard and fascist leadership in China actually dictates how many STEM graduates their universities will pump out. I don't want that here in the states, what I want is realistic expectations set and delivered to prospective students about what employment rates look like and where the payout in the endgame lies. Don't confuse me some sort of dream crusher rubbing one out to telling people that their passion is a sideshow in the game of life but rather just a realist with production of goods and services in mind.

This story actually sounds positive compared to my friends who got lit undergrad degrees and then went out into the world to use them. My close friend from high school first got a job proof reading SEC filings that had already gone public. He would proof them all night long and then they would go out as updates -- that nobody would ever read. Then after feeling like he was doing nothing, he started delivering pizzas and did that for six years before he finally landed a great job. What job would that be? Well, he works as one of the state's tax collectors who calls people up. He's a genuinely nice guy and has a very friendly voice and talks about tax solutions to people who owe the state money. And he never took a math or accounting course and he does very little writing in his job. That is the reality of a lit degree.

From the sound of this author's research [proquest.com] , she could probably get into natural language parsing fairly easily ... she understands orders of logic so may be able to learn some of the more friendly computer languages.

Reading, writing, making music, painting, playing games are all things that I super love to do. But they're just a side thing to something else that I'm good at that is much more productive and tangible to society.

Re:Some Rambling Commentary (1)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369549)

Reading, writing, making music, painting, playing games are all things that I super love to do. But they're just a side thing to something else that I'm good at that is much more productive and tangible to society.

So I guess you don't see the value of art in society? I think we are enriched by writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, performance, and the endless ocean that is music. I think a world where we just worry about being "productive and tangible" is a sad grey world. I say this as a developer: a healthy society supports the arts.

I Think You Misunderstood My Post (2, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369777)

So I guess you don't see the value of art in society?

That is a bizarre conclusion and I apologize if you derived that from my post.

I think we are enriched by writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, performance, and the endless ocean that is music. I think a world where we just worry about being "productive and tangible" is a sad grey world.

We are enriched -- I would argue that we're more enriched when we take those things up as a hobby. I will also argue that "being the best lute player in Cornwall" doesn't mean anything when YouTube allows one of the other six billion people to reach everyone on Earth. This is a good thing because it disperses all of the great things we're talking about but it also sets the bar mighty high. Worrying about being "productive and tangible" is not a sad grey world, it's a realistic world! And nowhere did I imply that we should "just" worry about that stuff, I merely questioned what the ratio of employment is. Right now there are too many people gunning for the job of tenured post doctoral thesis literature professor -- as evidenced by her post. There are a limited number of those!

I say this as a developer: a healthy society supports the arts.

As a developer, I'm able to actually earn enough money that I have disposable income to support the arts. Had I pursued my career as a bass player, I might be writing a column right now about how Flea and Paul McCartney are ruining my profession and keep me out of a job. Conversely I'm more than gainfully employed and extremely thankful for that fact!

The ratio of artists to patrons of the arts is important. If one side of the equation grows too large you have problems. We're discussing that inequality here, not talking about exterminating one or the other. The column in this article is indicative of too many people entirely basing their income models off of being artists. In such a crowded market with technology that allows me to select whichever artist I choose, this is not smart!

Re:Some Rambling Commentary (3, Insightful)

MNNorske (2651341) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369839)

We are definitely enriched by the arts. However there is a surplus of people going into these areas and a deficit of jobs. I see this quite frequently since one of my hobbies is working with community theatre groups. I see a lot of folks who got theatre, music, or other arts related majors in college (quite frequently at private colleges...) and then complain that they can't find a job. Note, I live in the Minneapolis area and we have a very large theatre community here, even with all the professional theatres we have here we cannot support the numbers of people who graduate every year looking to make theatre their career.

I would argue that most of these individuals would've been better off having obtained a major in some other field and done theatre as a minor or second major. Personally I majored in computer science. I have a stable profitable career, and I'm still able to partake in the arts and contribute to the arts.

The same can also be said for elementary education majors here in MN. We probably have per capita one of the highest rates of people with elementary education degrees. To the point where most of them are not working in education. Probably only half of the people I know who went to college for elementary education are actually working in that field. Did they learn something valuable? Sure. Could they have potentially learned something else and had an easier time getting a career in another field? Definitely.

I think the original commenter was simply trying to point out this fact. We do a very poor job of guiding teenagers moving from high school to either the real world or college. And, there are some fields which are simply over-saturated and it'll be hard to get a job in.

Re:Some Rambling Commentary (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369687)

my masters of science in computer science

Ahhh, your elite training has pinpointed the difference between your degree, and that of the author of TFA. Indeed, a masters in a discipline that pretty much keeps the entire developed world running is marketable.

Re:Some Rambling Commentary (2)

tgd (2822) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369701)

I got my masters between 2005-2007. Before that I had done two internships (while getting my undergrad) and then worked a year without school. When I went back to school my employer completely paid for my masters of science in computer science and, actually, I worked forty hours a week the whole time I was going to school full time. Doctorates are a completely different animal. I wanted to do one and yet the two professors who were interested in me said I would have to quit working my job. No deal, I've been working at least a 20 hour a week job since I was 13 and I think I would go insane now if I didn't have a full time job. And before you ask, academia is a lot of work but it is not a job.
 

Getting a masters in Computer Science is effectively like getting a higher grade of certification at a trade school. The point of your masters is not to prepare you for teaching. The point of a PhD (or Masters) in liberal arts is precisely that. Apples and oranges.

Re:Some Rambling Commentary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369719)

Well, as you apparently didn't do the PhD program that you mention, I don't know that you're qualified to dismiss it as not a job. How do you feel about working 100+ hour weeks for 5 years? Sounds *worse* than most jobs for college graduates. (Don't forget basically every PhD program in STEM fields pays salary to students) STEM graduate school absolutely is a job.

That being said, I definitely agree w/your analogy regarding the symphony.

Don't go there! (5, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369309)

Of course, a PhD in literature (of all things) is not going to be a meal ticket for the vast majority of people. How many tenure track positions SHOULD there be for literature studies? A couple of hundred in the US? It's a tiny, tiny sliver of adult life. If you have a burning desire to expound on the mysteries of "Gravity's Rainbow" and you think you need to devote your life to it, go ahead. The world might be a better place for it. But expecting to get a job doing that? Not so much.

There are PhD level studies that can reliably lead to gainful employment, but that's not what doctorate level education has been about. I think it would reflect nicely on our society if you COULD expect to devote your like to James Joyce and get compensated for your efforts, but we're a long way away from that particular utopia.

If you need money, get a job. If you have money, do what makes you happy and fulfilled. Don't necessarily conflate the two.

Re:Don't go there! (1)

internerdj (1319281) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369349)

If you are really lucky and enjoy science or engineering, you may end up with a career where you make money and you are happy and fulfilled. Even further, you might end up with an employeer who will let you chase these silly graduate degrees on their dime and even pay you more after you achieve them.

Re:Don't go there! (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369513)

Sure, that's exactly my point. IF you're lucky and IF you pick a field that has some economic justification.

For most people, PhD's in literature fulfill neither criteria.

Re:Don't go there! (1)

loufoque (1400831) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369677)

There should be zero. Why would we need researchers in literature?
We already have writers.

Misery is not limited to literature (5, Informative)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369315)

There are people in all branches of academia who have finished PhDs and are not finding meaningful employment. While a while back there was a study that declared that those who hold a PhD are seeing a much lower unemployment rate than the rest of the country (something like 2% vs the usual 9.999%) the problem is a lot of people who have that terminal degree are not getting the job they trained for. Many people are completing multiple post-doc positions and then ending up in dead end positions in academia (or industry) with no chance for professional advancement.

In other words, if the "unemployment" number for those with a PhD included those who are "underemployed" (in comparison to the job they actually aspire to hold), the number would be much, much, higher.

You wouldn't believe (3, Interesting)

kilodelta (843627) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369323)

The number of English Lit and Semiotics types I've encountered in the I.T. field. It's incredible.

Re:You wouldn't believe (1)

YojimboJango (978350) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369689)

No one writes more maintanable code than the person that believes that their code should be able to be read like a book. For that reason people that major in writing and english can turn out to be supprisingly good coders.

Depends on the subject (3, Interesting)

RobinH (124750) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369327)

As a psychologist in a lot of jurisdictions you *need* a Ph.D. to get licensed and get a job. Lots of people take undergrad psychology and then say, "now what?" That's not a good plan either. I think it pays to research this stuff ahead of time. BTW, you have a degree in literature? Why not become an author? Or, I dunno, get a job at a factory and read books on your lunch break like the rest of us?

Re:Depends on the subject (2)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369745)

I do not think that a PHD in literature necessarily makes you author material. I think in many ways they are completely different things.

That is the major problem with some of the degrees you can get in academia, some of them are only good for becoming a teacher of the degree in academia and not much else.

reading is a skill... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369345)

well, an literature undergrad degree at least gets me lots of friends - and by friends I mean people who want me to proofread their writing. for free. at work.

Worst Summary Ever? (2)

sloth jr (88200) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369351)

It's hard to see the connection between anything mentioned in the article and being turned into a horrible person.

Re:Worst Summary Ever? (5, Interesting)

rknop (240417) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369557)

It that you will *think* you're a horrible person. If you can't get a job in an academic tenure-track position, you'll think that you're worthless, a failure, that you haven't lived up to your own expectations of yourself and everybody else's expectations of you.

You won't *be* horrible, but you'll *think* you're horrible.

I've been there. Right now, I'm one of the EXCEPTIONALLY LUCKY in that I'm a 40-something who's in a Unviersity job. (We don't have tenure where I am, but it's a small teaching-oriented liberal arts college of exactly the sort I always wanted to teach at.) But, I've been in the position of trying to find a job and not being able to, and of being on the tenure track with certainty that I was going to get turned down because I couldn't get money out of highly overtaxed funding agencies. And I felt like a complete, worthless failure, somebody who's life didn't add up to a damn thing, somebody who couldn't do anything. THAT is how a PhD (mine is in Physics) turns you into a horrible person.

moron (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369355)

maybe the universities that were turning you down were looking for someone that understands the difference between "you" and "your" in literature... but then again, i'd have to confirm with my academic self.

Not so much that there are no jobs in Humanities.. (5, Insightful)

DSS11Q13 (1853164) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369361)

The issue is that the jobs are taken by the graduates of the elite institutions. I don't know where Ohio State University stands in Literature, but unless it's ranked in the top ten for that field, the chances of getting a job when one opens up is virtually nil.

It's simple arithmetic. The top schools, Ivies and their equivalents produce an equal or greater number of PhDs than there are positions opening in any given year in the humanities. Why would any school that is hiring, when they have applicants from half a dozen Ivies bother looking at someone from a lower ranked program? Sure, there is more to it than simply the program that mints you: how good your dissertation is, if your adviser is friends with the people hiring etc., but remember that the people graduating from the Ivies will also have very good dissertations and advisers who are friends with (or former professors of!) the people hiring!

If you want to be a humanities professor, and think you can do it without going to a top school, then yes, your cause is lost from the beginning. But, if you are as great as you think you are, and can get into a top program, then your chances aren't as bad as people make it out to be.

Re:Not so much that there are no jobs in Humanitie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369725)

The issue is that the jobs are taken by the graduates of the elite institutions. I don't know where Ohio State University stands in Literature, but unless it's ranked in the top ten for that field, the chances of getting a job when one opens up is virtually nil.

It's simple arithmetic. The top schools, Ivies and their equivalents produce an equal or greater number of PhDs than there are positions opening in any given year in the humanities. Why would any school that is hiring, when they have applicants from half a dozen Ivies bother looking at someone from a lower ranked program? Sure, there is more to it than simply the program that mints you: how good your dissertation is, if your adviser is friends with the people hiring etc., but remember that the people graduating from the Ivies will also have very good dissertations and advisers who are friends with (or former professors of!) the people hiring!

If you want to be a humanities professor, and think you can do it without going to a top school, then yes, your cause is lost from the beginning. But, if you are as great as you think you are, and can get into a top program, then your chances aren't as bad as people make it out to be.

Exactly.

This is the same in every field in academia. There are WAY too many reasonably well qualified PhDs applying for any tenure track position. I know that in physics and astronomy, a small, 3rd rate school might get 300+ qualified applicants for an open tenure track position ("qualified" meaning a PhD in the right field with multiple good postdocs). So if you didn't get your PhD from a very small list of schools (let's say the better Ivy league schools plus Standford, MIT, and Caltech), you aren't getting the job. Period.

I got my PhD from a Big 10 University. Then I looked at where the professors from my university and all the other Big 10 schools got their degrees from. It was all from schools higher up on the list than my (not so lowly ranked) school. That was a pretty good indication of my chances of ever getting a tenure track job.

It's not so much that students from my school were worse than students from places like Harvard. It's just that the people doing the hiring were all from the top tier schools. Plus nobody is going to get flak for hiring a guy with a PhD from Harvard, even if he didn't work out.

Don't go into academia! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369363)

Looks like somebody is trying to eliminate potential future competition.

SOUNDS LIKE A WOMAN !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369365)

Who has a disdain for the comma !!

You FAIL !!
You FAIL !!
You FAIL !!

But at least you know it !! Have you considered the growing field of escort service ?? I hear they are hiring !! And job security is yours !!

Self-propagating problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369369)

This is not news. Plenty of people are already very aware of this, and they don't choose to pursue such a path because of it. The effect of this, is that the best and brightest are quite often scared away from academia.

It's only a few hopeful, possibly naive suckers who do it anymore. Occasionally, someone will get into it for personal enrichment, fully knowing that it's not a rewarding career option, but these people are rare.

It's not exactly specific to literature and liberal arts either. Even in engineering, where I was - PhDs aren't exactly worthwhile and don't really increase the prospects of rewarding jobs. My B.Eng and 4 years of actual work with a decent company makes me more experienced, qualified and employable than any eng PhD I've ever met.

My wife has a graduate science degree, and now she's in trade school doing something completely different.

Leisure vs Investment (3, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369377)

Education can be both a leisure activity and an investment. When picking a major you have to consider both. If you are rich and are going to school purely for leisure then it doesn't matter. It's like an American that can afford to spend a year in Europe. It is fun and it will lead to personal growth.

But if you don't have the money and are getting yourself in massive debt you better think of it as an investment. Will I get a return on the money I am spending or borrowing? If not pick another subject. You have a lifetime to study for leisure. If you have a well paying job you will have more resources to help you. It's like that trip to Europe. Its fine to go if you can afford it. If you have to put yourself into crippling debt to go it might not be such a good idea.

No Job? I call BS (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369379)

I'm sure there is a position at McDonalds that you might be able to fill.

There's a future for you in US politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369393)

In the US and probably in many other countries, it seems neither usable skills or hint of intelligence are required at any level. You get the office and the benefits. The salaries are not commensurate with anything.

WTF - she DID get the job. (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369399)

>> An assistant professor....writes: "I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you"

Um...isn't she employed...by a Big 10 university...after going to grad school?

>> You will no longer have any friends outside academia.

I wonder why. Must REALLY get under her skin that the only place she gets published is on SlashDot.

Re:WTF - she DID get the job. (1)

Dster76 (877693) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369577)

Nope. She is a "visiting assistant professor", which is code for exactly the type of jobs listed in the description. Non-tenured track, low pay, no perks/office, higher teaching workload than the the tenure track/tenured.

Seriously? (4, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369401)

An intelligent person comes to recognize that having a LITERATURE DEGREE isn't a route to financial security.

Wow. That's some insight.

(This reminds me of an interview I saw on NPR purporting to illustrate how "hard" times have gotten in Greece, that PhD's were waiting tables in restaurants and barely scraping by. Almost as an aside at the end of the interview, they asked him what his PhD was in - "Russian Literature". I almost crashed my car I was laughing so hard.)

Hmmm ... (4, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369413)

Not to downplay this persons experience ... but, since this is Slashdot, and a tech-heavy web site ... show of hands for people who are shocked a PhD in literature may not be an awesome career path? Anybody?

Universities are pinched, and there's an increasing move among governments to say "why are we training people for stuff for which there are no jobs?". I knew someone years ago who was in his 5th year of university, working on a BA in English, had massive debts, and no prospects -- and the question at the time was, "other than personal interest, what will this degree ever do for you?". He had no idea about that.

Unfortunately, much of the 'humanities' subjects in university are so specialized and highly focused, that it's hard not to see how some of this is relevant to anybody except other people with PhDs in the field.

I've known a few people who studied post-modernism in literature ... and even they couldn't tell me what you'd use it for other than a purely academic discussion. For that matter, they mostly can't even define what post-modernism is to a layman, or why it has to be so incomprehensible that a computer generated paper gets accepted into journals.

Sadly, some degrees can only qualify you for academia, and if those positions aren't available, what have you gained by it? The ability to cite Chaucer while asking me if I want fries?

Re:Hmmm ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369501)

slow old news day

good (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369427)

good, what exactly would you have added to society with tenure in a university? creating more mindless, morons that think they are so great because they analyzed some books. produce something, write a book yourself

Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369477)

The mistake the author made was not pursuing a Ph.D, it was to completely identify with those academic pursuits, only to find that house of cards toppling down when the delusions it was built upon were put to the test of reality. Fall down, get back up and get real.

no wonder you can't get a job (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369479)

you wrote "you academic self" in an essay. why would anyone hire someone who wants to teach writing and literature who is that careless about their grammar?

Re:no wonder you can't get a job (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369635)

Probably a typo, no reason to work up yourself on it.

Job market is the worst in decades (2)

CQDX (2720013) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369483)

It is hard to get a job anywhere in this economy. Real unemployment is around 15% (not the 7.6% touted by the Feds, that number excludes people unemployed so long they can't get unemployment insurance payments). For a university position, this means there is going to be less funding so fewer tenured positions. Plus the terrible economy means more Ph.D.'s are seeking refuge in universities so the candidate pool is bigger. Back in the '90s with the tech boom, I remember seeing universities advertising professorship positions to CS, Eng. and science Ph.D. fresh out of school, post-doc not required because you could make better money outside acedemia. Now you have to do years of post-docs just to get your foot in the door as an assistant professor of even lecturer. It's worse in the liberal arts.

Similar experience for my PhD (3, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369509)

I have tried twice to get a PhD in math, finally getting it in 2009. I figured out fairly early that a PhD in math wasn't going to go far for me into academia career-wise especially with the weaknesses I have as a researcher and teacher. I did it because partly due to stubbornness and partly because I wanted to learn how to think at a really deep level.

Now, I'm an accountant working from the heart of a supervolcano [usparklodging.com] . It doesn't pay well, but I live in a cool place, have plenty of time off over the year, save a bit of money, and am picking up some useful experience. I do find the occasional use for my mad math skillz, but I accept that I'm not going to be fully challenged at a job like this.

Why is this rant on slashdot? (1)

destruk (1136357) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369511)

Last I heard complaints pertaining to life choices belong on Facebook.

What do literature Ph.Ds keep asking people? (3, Funny)

swan5566 (1771176) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369527)

...would you like fries with that? ;p

Reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369533)

Not to slight any dedication to expand one's knowledge, but a PhD in literature should never be pursued with the belief that a job is at the finish line. I do not understand how one can become "academically valid" a subjective field such as liberal arts or non-quantitative/objective economics. If the body of knowledge gained after a PhD in literature truly has the financial value a tenured position provides, then it should translate to the open market. In this case it obviously does not. Thus, why should more people be paid to train more PhD's if such a field if it is not economically viable?

Too specialized (1)

whizbang77045 (1342005) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369623)

A doctorate in anything is likely to make you over qualified for most jobs. Doctorates tend to be very specialized, which means the number of jobs available drops dramatically. Unless a doctorate is really necessary for the job (medical doctors, lawyers), the perception is that this person is going to want a lot more money than, say, someone with a masters' or bachelors' degree, and is perhaps too specialized for the job. Experience in the field, coupled with a less specialized degree, is likely to be more attractive to prospective employers.

.

When I got my masters' (1979) I considered getting a doctorate. I asked several friends with doctorates what they thought about pursuing the doctorate. To a person, they recommended against it, for the reasons cited above, plus one more: with a doctorate, it was very unlikely the company would ever promote me or them to management. They needed those doctors doing technical work that they could wheel out before customers, not managing things, where their doctorate had no additional credibility.

Math skills of a Literature PhD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369653)

-------
Well, tenure-track positions in my field have about 150 applicants each. Multiply that 0.6 percent chance of getting any given job by the 10 or so appropriate positions in the entire world, and you have about that same 6 percent chance of “success.”
-------
By this logic, if there were 200 job opening she'd have greater than 100% chance of getting one.

p = 1/150 = prob of being offered any particular job
j = 10 = # of jobs applied to

The chance of being offered a job is: 1-(1-p)^j =~ 6.47%

Maybe if her math skills were better she might get a job. :-)

Nobody outside the academia will understand why. (1)

porky_pig_jr (129948) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369655)

> You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why.

That is, nobody except Josef K.

Wow, depressing (1)

Kimomaru (2579489) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369657)

I could never understand how academics could get lifetime positions at universities doing what they do - not exactly the kind of work that provides value in a fast paced world. It just seems that getting a degree in philosophy or literature is like getting a degree is making buggy whips. It's so weird. Does anyone stll believe that reading To Kill a Mockingbird is a relevant exercise in the world we live in when we have enough real world examples of social issues? Indulging in classic literature has been mostly a waste of time for at least 15 years. If you want to do it for personal development, go for it. Professionally? C'mon.

Re:Wow, depressing (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369769)

I could never understand how academics could get lifetime positions at universities doing what they do - not exactly the kind of work that provides value in a fast paced world.

Because kids are willing to borrow vast sums of money to pay their salaries, because they think at the end of it they'll get a fat, well-paid job where they don't have to do much for the rest of their life other than argue about the use of commas as an ironic subtext in Oliver Twist.

Once they smarten up and say 'no', the academic bubble will burst.

Your learning experience in college... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43369667)

Your learning experience in college is pretty straight forward. You are building a venn diagram of three sets of information:

1. What you're good at
2. What you enjoy
3. What will make you money

You find what's in the middle and then you work your butt off developing the skills and knowledge related to that field. After a year or two of this, you also work your butt off volunteering or working for crap pay in every internship/apprenticeship/indenturedservitudeship you can find so that you can build your resume and your contacts.

After many years of this, you roll the dice a few times a year and eventually you should have a nice job.

The problem is, many people go into college thinking life is like high school and they will only have to make a few decision per year and then pretty much everything else will be handled for them. The reality is, every year that goes by, you have to take more and more control over your own destiny. There are a lot of people out there who either have very unrealistic expectations for what this should look like or they simply don't do it.

I learned a new word: (1)

justin12345 (846440) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369693)

I've never seen the word "penurious" before:

penurious
adjective formal
1 extremely poor; poverty-stricken: a penurious old tramp.
characterized by poverty or need: penurious years.
2 parsimonious; mean: he was generous and hospitable in contrast to his stingy and penurious wife.

--New Oxford American Dictionary

Well, (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43369753)

Sounds like she nailed it.

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